Explore the dissolving boundary between science and science fiction with news from the front lines of discovery and imaginative speculation on how each one could change our world.
Under threat from rapidly rising sea levels, the president of Kiribati has proposed moving the tiny island’s population of 100,000 to artificial floating islands.
A Tokyo-based construction company is designing an “ecopolis” intended to float on the Pacific ocean like giant lilypads. Two-mile-long islands surround a tower holding residential, office, and commercial space. Produce grown in the central will help support a self-sufficient food supply. The island’s base, anchored to the sea floor, will have more living space, farmland, and ports. All this will require energy, so the ecopolis will generate its own through solar, wind, tidal and biomass. Additionally, the city’s titanium dioxide “skin” will absorb and process carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Early estimates for the city are at least two billion dollars; however, many Pacific islands including Tuvalu, Tonga, the Maldives, the Cook and the Solomon Islands are already spending large sums on defenses against rising seas. As climate change continues to impact our oceans, transferring these drowning islands to artificial structures may be a more cost-effective solution in the long term.
Floating cities would be a marvelous feat of engineering, and a new frontier for sociology. Island communities appear in countless works of fiction, usually as a political microcosm. Would a real enclosed city be a utopia, or a restrictive terrarium?
A billionaire and a former Google engineer are collaborating on an idea for a floating libertarian country, built on oil rig-like structures in international waters. The state would have no laws,or ethical code. Imagine life in such a city. Would it become a haven for international criminals? How would land nations handle relations with island states?
What if other ideological groups decided to build island nations for their followers? Oceans could become patchworks of exclusive habitats. The balance of sustainability in the cities would likely be delicate, and resources would easily diminish. Raiding parties might loot resources from the mainland, or from other islands. Groups unable to afford expensive floating cities might pirate resources or even entire lilypads from other constructions. Some scientists theorized that humans evolved from an aquatic ape ancestor; as we develop ways to cope with rising seas, we may become an amphibious species once again.